By Laura Tait
Every culture has customs and traditions that are considered normal by locals because they're used to it, but some of them seem ridiculous to outsiders. From having your babies spat at in the street to hiding from your new husband on your wedding day, here are some practices (not all of them common) that are likely to surprise tourists…
Spitting in Greece
In most countries, there’s probably nothing more insulting to a new mother than a random stranger spitting on their children, but in Greece it’s a compliment. Spitting on anyone three times is thought to ward off evil spirits and bad luck, so it has become a particular custom in Greece to exorcise babies in this way, including in baptisms in the Greek Orthodox Church ceremony – both the priest and godparent spit three times in order to ward off the devil.
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Sweet shower in Iran
In some parts of rural Iran, on the tenth day after the birth of a child, family members visit and have lunch with the mother. The tradition turns a little bizarre after lunch, when they put the child in the cradle with some money and then crack sweets above the cradle to make a clattering noise. The purpose of the ritual? To accustom the baby with the high pitch quarrelling of its parents.
Baby bouncing in India
A surprising yearly ritual is held each year in Sholapur, India, in which babies are dropped from a 15m tower. Even more surprising is that there is no safety string tied to their bodies – they just free-fall straight into the hands of the people who wait below with a bed sheet. More surprising yet is the fact that the people of Sholapur seem to be somewhat clueless about the reasons they throw their young off a building – some say it’s for good health whilst others argue it is for good luck for the child’s future.
Coin shoes in Sweden
The bride’s mother presents her daughter a gold coin and places it in her right shoe while the father gives her a silver coin and places it in the left shoe. The purpose of the ritual said to be to ensure that the bride will never be poor, which begs the question…. have her parents seen how much it costs for a round of drinks in the country?
Booze bribes in Poland
An ancient tradition dictated guests would leave money to go through the ‘passing gates’ to the reception when the bride was an orphan – the money collected by ‘gate keepers’ was handed over to the bride as her dowry. Nowadays, weddings are manned by gate keepers granting access to the ceremony in exchange for vodka.
'Kidnapping' brides in Germany
Germany has a tradition where the happy couple’s friends and family steal the bride and hide her, and then the groom has to find her – thus proving his love for his wife to be. He has to search a lot of places before he finds her, and where does the search begin? The local pub. We can’t think how this could possibly go wrong.
Blackening the bride in Scotland
An unexpected odd custom on our home turf. Following one tradition (whilst breaking from another that says your wedding day should be the happiest day of your life), in some area of the Scottish highlands the bride is drenched with a smelly mixture of eggs, sauces, flour and feathers, before being paraded around the town. Meanwhile her friends and family make much beat sticks and bang drums noisily. But who says weddings have to be the happiest day of your life?
Feed the vultures in India
Certain Zoroastrian sects, such as the Parsis of India, place their dead atop dokhmas – known as ‘towers of silence’ – to be devoured by vultures. That’s the idea anyway, although in recent years, India's vulture population has declined (the construction of modern high-rise buildings near enough finished the job that diclofenac poisoning started) but the bright sun tends to do the trick.